Book Reviews -- Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist by Brooke Kroeger

Article excerpt

While journalist Brooke Kroeger's new biography of Nellie Bly does much to debunk the myths and legends surrounding the nineteenth century's celebrated stunt journalist, it also raises questions that remain unanswered because of the paucity of sources. But considering the blank space that used to be her story, this book does much to expose the real Bly to history.

Christened Elizabeth Cochran and affectionately called "Pink," she first added an "e" to her last name and then adopted the "Nellie Bly" sobriquet for practically all but her legal entanglements; she used "Nellie Bly" stationery and even signed letters "N.B" In this biography, Kroeger used dozens of magazine and newspaper articles written by and about Bly, peppered with the paltry primary evidence, to reconstruct the life story of the woman responsible for the age of stunt journalism.

In the process, the author exposes the flaws of Bly. Kroeger notes that she practiced a form of advocacy journalism that would be considered unethical today. She also failed initially as a columnist; she fled the country when she was charged with obstruction of justice; and she was an extremely litigious woman. She sued her mother as well as her guardian and her brother, among others. She spent all of World War I interred in Austria, and her passionate dislike of anything or anyone British encouraged her support of the Germans before the United States entered the war. Clearly, as Kroeger demonstrates, there was more to Bly than was previously remembered.

This is a much-needed book. The fact that there had never been a serious biography of arguably the most well-known woman journalist in America spoke poorly of the state of women in journalism history. That weakness has been bolstered by Kroeger's interesting and readable chronicle of the woman who raised stunt journalism to an art form when she spent ten days in a madhouse to expose the conditions on Blackwell Island in 1887. …